Sunday, 27 April 2014

Long Live the Healing Power of Music

No, I did not go to the Bryan Adams concert at Mile One Stadium on Friday.  No, I did not go to the Steve Dawson concert at the LSPU Hall yesterday evening.  Yes, I was at the Coffee House Fundraiser at the Gower Street United Church.  And finally, yes I will be at the fundraising concert tonight for the Quintessential Vocal Ensemble.  If I can get two good things done at once and still have fun, that's the way I roll.  Every time I choose to spend money I ask myself, "is this the best choice?"

Not that we have to always spend money is our fair city of St. John's to enjoy quality art of all manner of descriptions.  The music crawls that occurred yesterday afternoon as part of the Lawnya Vawnya festival are just one fine example.  I held a door yesterday for a man toting a double bass and overheard the conversation he was having with a musician colleague.  I gathered the bass player was visiting and the other chap was a local.  "Things are different here," the bassist, said, "It's the quality."  "Oh, that's because we all go to each other's concerts here" was the explanation his host offered.  This weekend the musical offerings are so rich that you would be excused if you complained of musical indigestion. 

And to think, this came on the heels of Independent Record Store Day that fell on last weekend.  So, we were treated to more free concerts at Fred's Record Store in downtown, St. John's.

The concert I attended last evening featured nine acts who had all generously donated their talents in support of the Louis Jones-Bernard & Riley Anderson-Fowlow Memorial Scholarship Fund.  I know it did us all good to be able to participate in something productive after the tragic death of these two young men.  I am a staunch believer in both the professionalism of art and in art-for-art's sake.  However, I would be foolish not to acknowledge the healing power of art both in the lives of individuals and the community.

It can happen on the most basic of levels.  One grueling morning dragging ourselves through the Toronto airport during the Christmas rush just after dawn my then seven year old son was stopped by security.  It was on account of the instrument he had surrendered to the x-ray machine.  Andrew explained it was a viola.  The technician did not know what that was.  Andrew offered to demonstrate, to play.  And in a matter of seconds the airport security area was filled with a heart felt rendition of Beethoven's Ode to Joy.  Tears rolled down the cheeks of the Air Canada lady, applause from the attentive public was spontaneous.  The jittery, cranky crowd was transformed.  I looked down at my son (I could still do that back then) and said, "And that Andrew is why we need music."

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Behind the Scenes of Proliferations Writing Andrée Anne Dupuis Bourret's exhibition essay

It started with my signing a contract agreeing to write an essay for Eastern Edge's main space gallery exhibit by Quebec artist Andrée-Anne Dupuis Bourret on March 24th.  My deadline for the text was April 4, 2014.  It appeared that I was being parachuted in to fill a gap by another writer that had gone a-wall for undisclosed reasons.  I said I was happy to help the gallery out.

To be honest, I was not familiar with artist's work so I was literally starting from scratch.  This was my first piece of information, it was the artists' show proposal:
The exhibition Proliferation explore new modes of spatial occupation for printed surface by questioning the way in which tools, interfaces and devices changes our individual perceptions of the world.

Andrée-Anne Dupuis Bourret have been approaching the creation through a reflection on perception and use of space. Her projects take on various forms : site-specific installations, paper works, artist publications. She has presented her work in several exhibitions in Canada and abroad (United-States, Israel, Australia). After receiving the Gold Medal of the Governor General of Canada for her master thesis project in 2011, she is currently working on a PhD on print art installation at University of Quebec in Montreal. She also teaches printmaking and writes two research blogs : Le cahier virtuel and Le territoire des sens.
When I started the essay I was possessed by pattern and its modularity.  Stripes went effortlessly from the animal kingdom to the world of digital information.  It seemed to be everywhere I looked.

This raised more questions than answers for me.  So, I went to check out her blogs.  Now I was cooking.  It was important for me at this stage to study her images, get a sense of intentions and her characteristic way of working.

The challenge in writing an exhibition essay is that the writer is basically working with something that doesn't exist yet.  The essay is growing along side the art work but often sight unseen.

My next step was to send Andrée-Anne a series of questions based on my observations of her blog.  I had decided to read her secondary material, in other words what other writers had written about, only after I had formed my own interpretation of her work.

Andrée-Anne was very throughtful and prompt with her answers.  Here is the list of topics we discussed: a description of the kind of module she was using as the key component she was creating for the show; it would be different from prior shows, the significance of its shape, her sources of inspiration and most importantly for my interpretation– hybridity.  What most intrigued me about this artist's work was that she was basically a print maker who made thousands upon thousands of prints that she folded by hand into 3-dimensional sculptural environments.  It took huge effort, amazing discipline and displayed real sensitivity.  The environment for the viewer was immersive and yet it was only paper.  I titled the essay Proliferations Modular Meaning, The Art of Andrée-Anne Dupuis Bourret.   And much to my surprise, at the opening, several people commented on how it helped them appreciate the art–even the sommelier, who graciously picked wines for the opening.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

How to Write an Artist Statement

Customarily, this is the busiest time of the year for me work-wise.  It is a combination of spending by my clients that coincides with the end of fiscal year and the start of a new budget.  One of things I frequently find myself doing in Spring time is teaching workshops.  Writing skills for artists is the core with spin-offs for special interests, say point-of-purchase literature for those selling art or fine craft or those tackling grant applications.

Last weekend, I was teaching a three-hour session for the Clay Studio at the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador.  Each time I teach a version of "How to Write About Yourself and Your Art" I update and revise my material.  On this occasion, I had fun using a roll-up-the-rim to win Tim Horton's cup.  My goal was to make my participants aware of how we are surrounded by language and how strategic our choice of language can be.  It was a good ice-breaker and we had fun.

One part of the handout that I use never seems to change and it is the section where I acknowledge the dislike most artists feel when it comes to writing an artist statement.  So, I thought I'd share a portion of that with the hope that might put someone out there at ease.

Artist Statements for Craftspeople & Visual Artists

I have never met an artist who enjoyed writing artist’s statements – old or young, experienced or inexperienced no one seems to like it.  But it is part of the job description and it does yield results.  Representation by a gallery or an agent, grants, exhibitions, sales – an artist’s statement will help you get these things.  Learning to write a statement will give you more control over the limited number of options and resources available to professional artists.

Most artists become white knuckled at the thought of writing an artist’s statement.  But there are 3 things you can do to make writing a statement easier:
1) The first step in taming your anxiety is to date the statement, make it finite. Cut it down to size; limit the risk.  The reason most artists dislike writing is that they’ve unwittingly blown the challenge out of proportion.  The purpose of the statement is to build a bridge of words between the artist and the viewer.  It is not an attempt to put down in words why you, the artist exists; nor is it required to recreate your artwork in words.  The statement is not a substitute for the art.  Both would be huge jobs, especially for someone whose prime fluency is visual rather than literal.

A statement lets the viewer know your viewpoint in their medium:  words.  It is your chance to speak up.

2) Focus on content.  Do not worry about how to say it, what the right words are.  Focus instead on what you need to say.  What is your message?  What you decide to put in a statement (& or a project description) is largely based on function.  Is the statement for a media kit or a portfolio?  What do you need to say?  What does your audience want to know? Credentials?  Technique? Are there advantages or disadvantages you should address?  For example, is there a rich sensory aspect to your work that an image alone cannot convey? 

See examples of how galleries are currently using artist’s statements in their communications.  Note your observations.

3) KISS, Keep it Simple & Short. Limit yourself to 3 points in a statement.  Why 3?  Three parts are sufficient to show that your thinking isn’t shallow or empty. It provides logic and structure, in short a plan. Three parts are enough to create a sense of movement, anticipation and suspense, vital to move your audience.  Three parts are easy to remember for both you and your audience. 

Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Unique & Handmade Belong in the Digital Universe

This image comes from a U.K. potter and illustrator who does commission work,
contact info:

This week I spent a good deal of time learning and thinking about marketing and its relationship with the arts.  There are some basics of marketing that do not change depending on what you are selling, say, effectively communicating with your customer.  By the arts I mean everything from visual art to fine craft to music and beyond.

This week I was at two workshops that were sponsored by We Heart the Arts, a conglomeration of arts groups here in St. John's that meet to address common challenges.  The digital age has changed how we communicate with our customers in a profound way.  I am old enough to remember writing my first press release on a typewriter.  (Yes, that old.  But then I started just out of high school.  And I lost my first job in a communications office because of a typo.)  Anyhow, what has happened is that today anybody in the arts dependent on an audience or client base is expected to know how to communicate and sell across a mind-boggling array of digital platforms.  Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, just to name a few.

Holding on for dear life, expresses how many feel dealing with the digital.

Not surprisingly, there is resistance among some in the cultural community.  As professionals, be they textile artists or musicians, they have spent long hours–sometimes decades–learning their craft, and largely that craft is based on hand skills that haven't changed for centuries.  Their sense of value is entrenched in the handmade and the unique; their products, whether it is a sound or a product that you can hold in your hand is theirs alone and extraordinary.

By contrast, the world of the digital is driven by numbers and the potential for a massive audience.  Large corporations that seem impersonal– almost alien– govern it.  It is easy to think of this as an extension of the fight against technology or as a generational divide but I think it goes deeper than that.  The resistance to the digital that some in the creative community experience is not a matter of age.  It is more of a worldview or a culture unto itself.

However, I think it is a mistake to label potters or violinists as dinosaurs.  I'd go so far as to say that the unique voice or perspective is an ideal match for the digital age.  The digital universe thrives on the individual. It is part of the evolution of technology but in the same way that cable TV opened up the broadcast industry to the community and local content, the digital universe is hungry for content providers regardless of size.  In order to survive, it has fashioned itself to accommodate the small provider as well as large organizations. Take this blog as an example, which is a free platform for a single voice – mine. The digital universe requires a multiplicity of voices.  It is a big monster to feed.  I don't think we should be thinking about slaying the monster.  Just riding it.     
A Neriede nymph has tamed her monster.